Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

During our lives we will likely all experience a traumatic event at some point that is overwhelming, frightening, and feels out of our control; whether that be a car crash, a victim of assault, or witness of an accident. Often we are able to process these events with time and support, but in some cases, these traumatic experiences trigger a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it is a condition which crucially requires professional help to resolve.

Common traumatic events which may lead to PTSD include:

  • serious accidents (road traffic accident)
  • military combat
  • violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
  • being taken hostage
  • terrorist attack
  • being a prisoner-of-war
  • torture (physical, emotional and psychological)
  • natural or man-made disasters
  • being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Symptoms of PTSD

Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty, ashamed and angry after a traumatic experience. In addition to these understandable emotional reactions, there are three core symptoms which signal the presence of PTSD:

  • Re-Experiencing

You find yourself repeatedly re-living and re-experiencing a traumatic event as if it is happening again in the here and now. This experience is intrusive, automatic and involuntary, and may occur in the form of flashbacks, intrusive memories, nightmares and/or dissociation. During these times you may feel the same emotions and physical sensations you felt during the event (fear, shame, guilt; nausea, pain, sweating or trembling), and re-experience the same five sensory experiences that you did during the trauma (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight). It can be very frightening, but these are all normal and common reactions seen in PTSD which are treatable.

  • Avoidance

Understandably, it may feel too upsetting for a person to repeatedly think and talk about a traumatic experience that they endured, and so people commonly try to use techniques to avoid doing so. For example, distraction, numbing (substance misuse) and avoidance of people and places that may remind them of the trauma. Whilst avoidance may provide some short-term relief, unfortunately it is understood to maintain the disorder as ultimately it prevents and interferes with the memories being processed and stored away correctly.

  • Feeling ‘on guard’

People with PTSD describe feeling hyper-alert and hyper-vigilant to signs of potential danger, as if they are always ‘on guard’. This commonly results in people feeling chronically anxious and panicky, which can affect sleep, concentration and memory. They may also feel very jumpy and irritable.

Treatment for PTSD

A range of trauma-focused talking therapies are evidenced to be effective in the treatment of PTSD, and a number of psychologists within our team are highly specialised in providing these therapies.

We’re here for you. If you would like to enquire about treatment for PTSD at the Fitzrovia Psychology Clinic, please contact us to arrange an assessment.